Mel Brooks, then Melvin Kaminsky, enlisted in the Army and served as a forward artillery observer and a combat engineer in Europe, where he deactivated land mines. His three older brothers, Irving, Lenny and Bernie, also served in the war.
After the war, Brooks played drums and piano in Borscht Belt resorts, working his way up to stand-up comedy. In the 1950s, he became a television writer, often collaborating with his best friend, Carl Reiner.
For many years, Brooks had considered the idea of writing a musical comedy about Adolf Hitler, and it finally came to fruition as his first feature film, The Producers, in 1968. The film’s biting satire sparked great controversy, and it went on to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, becoming an underground hit, and later a successful Broadway musical.